Belgium has the lowest percentage of all EU countries of women in top civil service jobs, according to figures from the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) leaked to Le Soir newspaper. The European average of women in the very highest category of jobs is 35%; in Belgium the figure is 10%. For the category just below that, the EU average is 43% – very close to parity with men. In Belgium, however, the figure is a distant 23%.
The figures relate to senior functions in government ministries. In Belgium, only one such is headed by a woman: Isabella Mazzara, head of the home affairs ministry (photo). “Believe me, my male colleagues are just as bothered by the imbalance,” she told Le Soir.
“In my own experience, I admit I’ve never experienced any obstacles due to being a woman,” she said. “I’ve seized the opportunities that presented themselves.” Mazzara was chief of staff for Annemie Turtelboom when she was home affairs minister, and for Maggie De Block when she was secretary of state for asylum and migration – both female ministers, she recognises. “I passed the exams and so on, but the fact is there are fewer women candidates.”
Part of the reason for the imbalance, she says, is the tendency for women more than men to be concerned about work-life balance. In her own department, she tries to offer a maximum of flexibility, such as avoiding early and late meetings, and allowing home-working where practical.
“I have a lot of respect for women who prioritise family life. The most important thing is that we feel free to choose, whether that means going home early for the children or going for one of the top jobs.”
In 2012 the government passed a rule which called for one-third of all posts in public service should be occupied by a woman. Taking all government services into account, the actual figure is still short of the target, on 29%.